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Comparing Aluminum and Steel: Which Metal is Right for Your Project?

Curious about using aluminum or steel for your next project? Learn about their unique properties, including corrosion resistance, strength, weight, and cost, to choose the right materials.

Steel vs Aluminum Metal

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By Gary Hendrix
Aug 30, 2020
Estimated 4 minute read

Steel and aluminum are two of the most widely used materials on the planet.

Comparing Aluminum and Steel: Which Metal is Right for Your Project?

The choice between aluminum and steel is a big decision when considering materials for industrial applications such as safe access solutions. Companies like ErectaStep utilize primarily aluminum to provide durable and efficient access solutions tailored to meet various industrial needs. Here’s a broader look at how aluminum and steel stack up in general use, helping you decide which metal is best for your specific project requirements.

Aluminum or Steel

Corrosion Resistance

Aluminum is highly corrosion-resistant because it forms a protective oxide layer that shields the underlying metal from environmental elements. This characteristic makes aluminum ideal for applications where corrosion resistance is a priority, without additional protective coatings.

In contrast, carbon steel must be painted or galvanized to prevent rust and corrosion. Stainless steel, however, inherently resists corrosion due to its chromium content, making it suitable for environments that demand durability without frequent maintenance.

Malleability and Fabrication

Aluminum is known for its malleability and ease of fabrication, allowing for the creation of complex, detailed structures. This makes it particularly useful for projects requiring precision and intricate designs.

Steel, though less malleable, is valued for its toughness and resilience. It is more likely to maintain its shape under stress but can be more challenging to work into complex forms without special processing.

Strength and Durability

Steel is recognized for its superior strength and durability, making it a preferred material for applications that require robustness, such as in structural supports and heavy-duty frameworks.

Although aluminum is lighter and generally more prone to dents and scratches, it can offer increased strength in colder environments and is suitable for applications where a lighter material is beneficial.

Weight

Steel is significantly denser and heavier than aluminum, which can be a disadvantage or an advantage depending on the application. Aluminum’s lower weight makes handling easier and reduces transportation and construction costs.

Cost

Both aluminum and steel prices fluctuate based on global market conditions. Typically, steel is more cost-effective per pound. However, the choice may depend on specific project needs and the long-term benefits of using a lighter or more corrosion-resistant material.

STEELALUMINUM
CheaperMore Expensive
Prone To CorrosionResistant To Corrosion
Heavier (490 lbs. per cubic foot)Lighter (169 lbs. per cubic foot)
Absorbs HeatHigh Thermal Conductivity
Very StrongLess Durable
Longer Assembly TimeEasy To Assemble

Application Uses

Steel is often chosen for its strength in construction, making it ideal for major infrastructure projects. Aluminum’s strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance make it advantageous for high-rise buildings and structures that require lighter materials.

Both metals are also widely used in the energy sector, transportation, and consumer goods, each playing to its strengths depending on the specific requirements of the project.

Choosing the suitable metal—whether it’s aluminum or steel—depends mainly on the specific demands of the application, balancing factors like strength, weight, corrosion resistance, and cost.

Wood or Aluminum

  • Durability: Aluminum outshines wood in durability, requiring minimal maintenance compared to the high upkeep of wood.
  • Corrosion Resistance: Aluminum’s resistance to rust makes it a superior choice over wood, especially in challenging conditions.
  • Ease of Assembly: Prefabricated aluminum solutions offer significant time and cost savings compared to labor-intensive wood construction.
  • Strength/Weight: Aluminum is three times stronger than wood, making it a more reliable choice in various applications.
  • Cost: While wood may have a lower upfront cost, the long-term benefits of aluminum outweigh the initial savings.
WOODALUMINUM
Less Expensive UpfrontMore Expensive
Resistant To CorrosionResistant To Corrosion
Lighter (94 lbs. per cubic foot)Heavier (169 lbs. per cubic foot)
Non-ConductiveConductive
Less DurableStronger
Longer Assembly TimesEasy To Assemble

Aluminum or Fiberglass

  • Durability: Fiberglass resists scratches and dents, while aluminum protects against UV exposure.
  • Corrosion Resistance: Both materials offer corrosion resistance, with fiberglass excelling in certain chemical environments.
  • Strength: Aluminum’s durability surpasses fiberglass, making it more suitable for impact-prone applications.
  • Weight: Aluminum is heavier than fiberglass but offers comparable strength at a lower weight.
  • Cost: Fiberglass tends to be more expensive than aluminum, considering both material and manufacturing costs.
FIBERGLASSALUMINUM
CheaperMore Expensive
Resistant To CorrosionResistant To Corrosion
Lighter (112 lbs. per cubic foot)Heavier (169 lbs. per cubic foot)
Non-ConductiveHigh Thermal Conductivity
Prone To Breaking or CrackingMore Durable
Longer Assembly TimeEasy to Assemble

Conclusion

In choosing between aluminum and steel for industrial applications, including safe access solutions, it’s crucial to consider the specific needs of your project. Companies like ErectaStep rely on the durability, strength, and comparatively light weight of aluminum to optimize the functionality and safety of their installations. This strategic material selection is critical to developing effective and sustainable industrial solutions.

 

Gary Hendrix has served as Regional Sales Manager at ErectaStep since 2021, focusing on providing prefabricated metal stairs, steps, and work platforms that meet OSHA standards. He collaborates with industrial plants across various sectors—including oil and gas, chemical, and food and beverage—as well as engineering firms and trucking companies to achieve their safety objectives. Gary works directly with engineers, project managers, and safety professionals to deliver both standard and uniquely engineered solutions, enhancing workplace safety and efficiency. At ErectaStep, he is committed to offering the highest quality work platform equipment with the industry's fastest lead times, often within 24 hours.